Archive | June, 2012

Tips & Tricks: Saving Money at the Grocery Store

30 Jun

Groceries are probably one of the biggest items on a family budget and the cost of food just keeps increasing. There are however a few ways that you can save a few cents or in some cases up to ten dollars on a single item.

Here are just a few ways to save your pennies:

  • Check out sales south of the border – Lots of things can be significantly cheaper in the US. See my post on that here.
  • Consult the flyers– Yes, this involves checking out the flyers each week but this is one of the best ways to consistently save

    Courtesy of TechEh

    money each week. If you don’t get flyers delivered to your door, all of the grocery stores have their flyers posted to their website. For those of you in Ontario (especially Ottawa), the Ottawa Citizen’s food guru Ron Eade actually does most of the work for you, posting a list of the top grocery store deals on his blog.

  • Plan your menu – Have a basic idea of what meals you’ll make during the week so you don’t wind up buying things you don’t need or won’t get a chance to use. It’s even better if you plan meals based on what’s on sale.
  • Make a list – Keep tabs on what you’ve used up at home and what you’re missing to complete the meals you’re planning to make. Stick to the list and avoid picking up things you’ve already got in your pantry or stuff you pick up on a whim.
  • Pick up staples when they’re on sale – Why buy canned tomatoes at 1.69 a tin when you can buy a flat when they’re on sale for .99  cents? They’re not going to go bad! Same goes for any other non-perishables.
  • Know how much things cost at different stores – This seems like a no-brainer, but if you usually go to Walmart and a grocery store, it pays to know that Tostitos are around .40 cents cheaper per bag at Walmart.
  • Do the math – Compare the price per oz. or pound or unit on different sized packages. Just because it’s a bigger size doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cheaper. Some stores will actually have this information on the shelf label for you.
  • Buy in bulk – Club packs or large sizes from places like Costco or even regular grocery stores can mean significant savings. Example – I used to buy ready chopped garlic in the little sized jar for between $2.50 and $3.50 but we like our garlic and I’d go through it pretty quickly. I got wise and picked up the jumbo size which = at least 6 or 7 of the smaller packages for about $4.50.
  • Don’t buy spices at the grocery store – Bulk food stores are much cheaper for spices because you’re not paying for the fancy bottle. Plus, you can buy only as much as you need, especially if it’s not a spice you use commonly.
  • Courtesy of

    Invest in a deep freezer – Having open freezer space allows you to take advantage of sale prices to stock up on meats, butter and other things that freeze well. Split them up into meal sized portions before freezing, or make meals in big batches (like spaghetti sauce) when the items are fresh and freeze as ready made meals.

  • Don’t shop on auto pilot Keep your eyes peeled for savings you aren’t expecting. For example, I almost missed that a certain brand of milk was on sale because I usually bought what was regularly the cheapest. Tonight, I almost missed a larger bottle of laundry detergent for cheaper than its smaller counterpart, just because it wasn’t in the same shelf area.
  • Look for coupons – Coupons aren’t as big of a deal here as they are in the states, but lots of stores (especially the Loblaws brand ones) have a coupon station at the front of the store. The savings can be huge, especially if those items are already on sale.

All of these tips will help cut your grocery bills on an every day regular basis but the secret to slashing your bill by as much as $10 on a single item is simply knowing about the scanning code of practice. The scanning code of practice is a voluntary code that most major Canadian retailers (grocery stores, Walmart, drug stores etc.) participate in.

The basics of it are pretty simple – if the item you buy scans in higher than the price listed on the shelf you are entitled to the item FOR FREE if it’s below $10, and if it’s above you get a $10 reduction in its price. This applies only to the first of multiple items. The remainder just get price adjusted.

Want an example? Remember that big bottle of laundry detergent that was cheaper than it’s smaller cousin I was telling you about? Well, it was even cheaper because the tag on the shelf said $12 but it scanned in at $18. I just told the cashier that the item scanned in wrong. She had someone verify the shelf tag and confirmed it was priced at $12. Most stores will just adjust the price at this point in order to save themselves the cash so be bold and tell them the code and what you should get. Many newer cashiers don’t even know this exists but their managers do.

And that’s how I got a $2 jug of name brand laundry soap.

I’ve also gotten free pork souvlaki and free nailpolish.

Courtesy of CBC

Recipe: Greek Yogurt & Dill Dip

29 Jun

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen the commercial for Frank’s Red Hot where they have a sweet grandma say, “I put that shit on everything!” Well,  I put THIS shit on everything.

I’ve used this dip/sauce on all kinds of raw veggies, on chips, on grilled or panfried fish, on grilled meats (usually kofta or souvlaki but it’d be great on lamb or even chicken). The best part, is that there is ZERO fat. Yes, ZERO. And it’s got flavour for days. This makes a big batch, but since it’s really just throwing stuff into some yogurt, you can mix up as little or as much as you need.

Greek Yogurt & Dill Dip

1 tub 0% Greek yogurt (yes, it’s gotta be the Greek stuff)
3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped (I use the kind that comes in a tube)
3 tbsp chopped garlic (I get the pre- chopped jarred kind)
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt

Mix. Enjoy.

That’s it. Seriously.

It is better if it gets to sit for a bit and meld flavours. Feel free to crank up (or tone down) the garlic factor or swap the dill for another herb that you like better (dried mint’s a good choice). Keeps nicely for days in the fridge.

Recipe: Spanish Chorizo Fritatta

28 Jun

I think we all have those days where you get home from work and stare into the fridge blankly wondering what you can throw together for dinner. Sometimes when that happens, I give up and break out a freezer meal (either homemade or an old standby like chicken fingers) but sometimes, that just won’t cut it because you want something real.

This is a recipe for one of those days.

Spanish Chorizo Fritatta
(based on Martha’s Tortilla Espanola)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large potatoes, diced in 3/4 inch pieces
1/4 medium onion, diced
salt & pepper
1/2 PC Spanish style chorizo (hot or mild), diced into bite sized pieces
7 large eggs, beaten
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, optional

On medium-low, heat the oil in the bottom of a high sided non-stick frying pan. Add the potatoes (up to you whether you take the time to peel them or not) and the onion, salt & pepper and cook, covered for approximately 20 minutes stirring often until tender. Throw in the chorizo and let that cook for 3-4 minutes or until it starts getting fragrant. Salt & pepper the eggs before pouring overtop of the potato and egg mixture. Let it cook until the edges are set and the middle is only slightly runny, about 6 – 8 minutes.

Here’s the hard part – slide the whole thing out of the pan and on to a large plate. Then invert the pan over top of the plate and flip quickly so that the top of the fritatta is now in the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come out perfect – it’ll still taste great! Cook for another 3-4 minutes until done.

I like cheese with my eggs and potatoes so I decided to add some to the top at the end. Probably not very Spanish, but still very tasty. If you want to speed this dish up a bit, try popping the potatoes in the microwave for 5 minutes before chopping.

This is becoming a favourite in our house (anything with chorizo is a winner). Hope you like it as well!

Canada Day Countdown

27 Jun

In our household, Canada Day is an excuse to have our nearest and dearest friends over for a BBQ and a bonfire. Nothing seems to be a more ‘Canuck’ way of celebrating than communing with nature while eating grilled meat and drinking beer.

Preparations are still fluid but I thought I’d share some inspiration ‘pins’ from Pinterest that you might be able to use for your own Canada Day celebration!

  • Want a new twist on a burger? Why not try stuffing your burgers with cheese? Or mixing the beef itself with blue cheese. Or going for something more exotic like buffalo, or elk. In Ottawa, the Elk Ranch in Kanata sells the same burgers you can get at the famous local burger chain The Works among other tasty treats for humans and dogs.

    Southwestern Skirt Steak Courtesy of Plain Chicken

  • If you want to step it up a notch, this southwestern skirt steak would be a surefire winner with beef lovers. This version of Korean bulgogi would be a winner too.
  • Want to serve ribs but don’t want to have to cook them all day? Why not try these ‘boneless’ ribs made from a pork tenderloin?
  • This summer’s favourite grill meat has been kofta, a middle eastern spiced meat on a stick. Everything is better when it’s on a stick. I’ve actually been buying my kofta meat pre-mixed at Damas Supermarket on Carling (across from the movie theatre) – really tasty and it’s also a great stop for other middle-eastern grocery items. It goes great with a cool garlic/yogurt/mint/lemon sauce.
  • Chicken’s always a winner too. We often do legs marinated in tandoori sauce (Patak’s is the best we’ve tried) and grilled on one of these gizmos. Totally worth the $14.
  • For dessert, last year I did cupcakes with maple leaf quins (available at The Bulk Barn) but this year I’m thinking either strawberry trifle or this donut/ice cream/maple syrup and strawberry combo. So Canadian eh? 🙂

    Courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

Have a happy (and safe) Canada Day everyone!

Spotted – Canadian Wild Cherry Pepsi!

26 Jun

UPDATE! – I’ve seen cases for sale at Loblaws chain stores and Costco! Woo hoo!

It’s a very exciting day boys and girls. Look at what I found for sale in the food court of my office building:

Yes, that’s real, 100% cherry Pepsi from Canada. You can almost see the french labeling ‘Cerise en Folie’ in this shot.

Now for the important part – does it taste like US Wild Cherry Pepsi? From what I recall (I don’t have a US can handy for a taste test comparison) it’s close but the Canadian cherry flavouring tastes more natural than it’s US counterpart. It’s actually fresher and lighter and less like a Cherry Jolly Rancher diluted into the pop. It’s not better, or worse – just different.

So Pepsi – what’s the plan? Can Canadian consumers expect cases of Wild Cherry Pepsi on grocery store shelves soon?

*** UPDATE *** I hear it’s available at Costco – will have to check this out!

Food Truck Politics on the CBC

25 Jun

Yes, I’m a big nerd and I listen to CBC Radio. In fact, I listen to The Current every day on my way into work.

Today they had a great segment about food truck politics. You should really check it out if you get a chance – listen here. The long and the short of it is that the established food culture (restaurants, restaurant associations, governments etc.) are scared that if food trucks are unleashed on Canadian cities that mayhem will ensue and that nobody will ever go to a restaurant again. Ever.

OK, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but I certainly don’t think a handful of well-regulated food trucks will mean a major syphoning of restaurant patrons. Some people want to sit while they eat in climate controlled comfort and that won’t ever change. Just pass a bylaw that says you can’t park within 50 feet of a restaurant and call it a day.

What do you think about food trucks? What kind of laws would you like to see around them? Would you be game to see more in your town?

Neato graphics thanks to MeanRedProductions. And yes, there is a real Big Gay ice cream truck in NYC.

Recipe: Mexican Chicken Skillet

24 Jun

For those of you who have not jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon, you’d better get there soon before the wagon fills up. It’s a great place for recipes, home decor, craft, organizational and other ideas. It’s also a great place to waste a lot of time so beware 🙂

Most ‘pins’ come from blogs, magazines, or other kinds of websites, but more often now people are just uploading photos of their dinners directly to the site with a bit of rough explanation for a ‘how to’. That’s where I found this rough recipe (pin). I wish I could give credit where credit is due, but I’ll just have to send a random ‘thank you’ to the interwebs cause this was a winner. It was quick, easy and had a nice spicy flavour. Low fat too!

Mexican Chicken Skillet
2 large chicken breasts, cubed into 1″ cubes
1 can of Rotel
1 packet taco spice
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups instant rice
2 cups grated cheddar, Mexican blend, or marble cheese

Over medium high heat, place the cubed chicken in a deep 12″ frying pan sprayed with Pam. Fry until just brown and then add 1 can of Rotel, 1 1/2 cups of water, taco spice and salt. Stir to combine and let it come to a good boil. Throw the rice in and stir. Reduce heat to low, cover with a lid and let it simmer for about 7-10 minutes or until the rice is cooked through. Add the 2 cups of cheese to the top and cover again until it melts. Serve with taco chips.

Notes, tips & tricks:

  • Use heavy duty kitchen shears to cut through meat. It’s fast and easy and you don’t have to dirty a cutting board!
  • If you don’t have Rotel, you can substitute 1/2 can of diced tomatoes and some diced jalapeno.
  • Other substitutions: swap the white rice for brown, add a can of black beans and a can of corn to feed a larger crowd for less (or just add those and omit the chicken for a vegetarian option).
  • Tired of Lean Cuisine for lunch? Make a double batch and package the leftovers in microwaveable/freezable containers. You’ll never be scrambling for a lunch in the morning again.

Making a Run for the Border – Part 2

23 Jun

In part one, I talked a bit about American treats that I get nostalgic about as well as some American-only pantry staples. Today I’m going to talk a bit about US shopping options close to Ottawa and why it’s often worth the price of gas and bridge fair to get there.

Image courtesy of

For those of us who live in eastern Ontario, there are a few options within a short drive:

  • Ogdensburg, NY – A short 1 hour drive down the 416 and over the bridge from Prescott, Ogdensburg is a smallish border town but it has a Lowes’, a Walmart, several options for groceries and pharmacy products and a couple of women’s clothing stores.
  • Watertown, NY – About 2.5 hours from downtown Ottawa and across the Thousand Islands Bridge between Brockville and Gananoque, Watertown has a lot more to offer with a small mall, perennial favourite Target and my personal favourite – Kohl’s. Kohl’s is a department store with great quality and on-trend clothing and home products at excellent prices. If you go, check out  the Texas Roadhouse for lunch. They make a mean steak and will stuff you until you’re about to burst.
  • Massena, NY –  Massena is 2 hours from Ottawa but a quick 20 minute trip from Cornwall. Similar to Watertown, it has a small mall but lacks some of the big box options like Target and Kohl’s. It does have a Home Depot though as well as several grocery stores and pharmacies.
  • Syracuse, NY – Syracuse is the big daddy of shopping options in the area but it’s also the furthest away – a 3 hour jaunt. It is doable as a day trip, but I like to turn it into an overnighter. They have a large mall, and just about any big box store you could want in nearby Clay, NY.

Why Make the Trip?
Invariably when I tell some folks I’m planning to make a trip down, they ask me why I’d waste my gas to go down there when Ottawa has a pretty good shopping selection. Two reasons: variety and price. Even with gas and bridge fare, the new personal daily exemption of $200 means I can get a lot of deals without having to pay any duty. Even when you do get dinged for duty because you’ve crammed your car full of ‘deals’, it’s STILL worth it.

Here’s just a few examples of why it pays to go:

  • Pop – The pop deal in Canadian flyers lately has been two 12 can cases for $10 – that’s .41 cents/can. At Price Chopper last week I picked up two 24 can cases for $12 – that’s .25 cents/can. This week they’ve got four 12 can cases for $9 – that’s even cheaper!
  • Eggs – Much like milk whose price is regulated in Ontario, eggs are a better deal south of the border. I saw a flyer that was advertising a dozen large eggs for .99 cents and turkey bacon at the same price. You’d be hard pressed to make a $2 breakfast for a large family in Canada unless you served oatmeal.
  • Cool Whip – In my local Independent Grocer, Cool Whip is around $4 Canadian. It’s on sale for $1/tub this week.
  • Yogurt – Single serving greek yogurts are prohibitively expensive here running around $1.70/serving but are usually on 10/$10. You’d save $7 just going for yogurt alone.
  • Old Bay seasoning – A hard to find item in Ottawa (only Sobey’s seems to carry it), a 74 g tin is around $4.70. I picked up a 170 g tin for $4.24. That’s more than double the amount for less money.
  • I also got deals on fresh chicken, jambalaya mix, brownie mix, clothes, toothpaste, makeup and even a bike!

Despite the deals, there are some items that are either priced the same in Canada, or are even more expensive in the US. Before you leave, check the flyers (they’re all available online), know your prices for your usual items and know the rules about what you can and cannot bring back.

Happy shopping!

Making a Run for the Border

21 Jun

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the US on vacation and day trips, and then later working over the summer. Because of how much time I spent there in my formative years, I get a bit nostalgic for foods that you can only get on that side of the border.

Because of that (and because of the great deals that can be had – I’ll talk about that in another post) I try to make the short trek to Northern New York at least a couple of times a year.

On this trip, I spotted something in particular that brought the memories flooding back – an orange sherbet push-up pop. Even though I had indulged in the bacon sundae earlier in the day, for .75 cents I had to have one.

I vividly remember riding my bike to the camp store at the State Park with my mom and having her fish one of these out of the freezer as a treat. It tasted just as good as it did then and to this day, remains one of the few orange flavoured things I actually enjoy.

However, my usual American grocery list goes well beyond ice cream in a tube. Here’s a list of things that just aren’t available north of the 49th parallel that I invariably wind up throwing into my basket:

  • Jiffy cornbread mix – Cornbread is a great side with chili, tortilla soup and anything with a BBQ sauce. Jiffy’s mix is DIRT cheap and makes throwing together a batch so easy. I’ve been meaning to try adding half a box of yellow cake mix to it based on a tip from The Sister’s Dish on Pinterest. There are a lot of great recipes as well that call for a box of the mix so it’s handy to have around.
  • Cherry Pepsi – The one thing American grocery stores have us beat on, is sheer variety and they have it in spades when it comes to pop – there’s vanilla, lemon, lime, raspberry, black cherry with vanilla and that’s just cola. (Cherry Pepsi happens to be my favourite – tastes great with a shot of rye!) There are also several flavours of Sprite, Mountain Dew and let’s not forget Faygo
  • Rotel – For the uninitiated, Rotel is a handy mix of diced canned tomatoes and chilis. Many Mexican and southwestern recipes out of the US call for a can or two. I like to throw some boneless skinless chicken thighs into a pot to simmer with a can of Rotel and a packet of taco seasoning for a quick chicken taco filling.
  • Natural casing hot dogs – While in Michigan, I fell in love with natural casing hot dogs from Koegel’s. The natural casing gives a nice snap and keeps the great flavour inside. Once you’ve had one, Shopsy’s will taste like No-Name brand. In Michigan, Kogel’s dogs are the foundation for most of the Coney dogs served in the Flint and Detroit areas. There, Coney dog shops are like Tim Horton’s here – EVERYWHERE. Alas, meat regulations prevent me from having Koegel’s ship me a crate of hot dogs, so I picked up some Nathan’s Orignal famous beef franks. They don’t quite have the depth of flavour of the Kogel’s (which are beef and pork) but they do have that lovely snappy texture and are a pretty good substitute for a DIY Coney dog. If you’re in Michigan, Koegel’s are available in many local supermarkets.

DIY Coney Dog Recipe

1 package of natural casing hot dogs
1 package soft hot dog buns – I prefer the ‘toast’ style that are cut along the top
1 can Hormel chili with no beans (another US only product) – It’s not quite what you’ll get in Michigan, but it does in a pinch. If you want try to make your own, try this recipe.
1 vidalia onion, finely chopped
grated cheddar or marble cheese
ballpark yellow mustard – optional

Heat the hot dogs in a frying pan with a small amount of oil. A couple sprays of Pam will do. While they’re cooking, throw the can of chili in the microwave and heat until warm, dice your onion and grate your cheese. Pop the buns into the microwave to steam for 30-40 seconds before placing the hot dogs in. The dogs should be golden and heated through. Top generously with sauce, a thin line of mustard (optional), cheese and then onions. Don’t even attempt to pick it up unless you want to hose yourself down after dinner. This is a fork and knife type meal.


Apologies for my terrible food photography.

Taste Test: Burger King Bacon Sundae

19 Jun

Oh yes, you read that right – bacon sundae. Half of you are now making disgusted faces and half of you are salivating.

This treat is currently only available in the USA as Burger King doesn’t seem to think us Canadians can handle meat in a dessert.

Unlike most fast food food, the reality of the sundae matched the look of the one advertised and even actually exceeded it – the sundae was much larger than pictured!

For comparison’s sake – ad on the left, real on the right. Was surprised to get a full strip of bacon!

How did it taste??? A-mazing.

The sundae is vanilla soft serve with chocolate sauce on the bottom, topped with chocolate and caramel drizzle and a generous amount of real crunchy bacon chunks. A full strip of bacon is tucked on the side.

The salty/sweet combination works surprisingly well and the crunchyness of the bacon provides a nice counterpoint to the creamy sundae.

Would I eat it again? Heck yes.